Habitual offender to appeal sentence

Debate continues over state's mandatory jail term legislation

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It turns out neither side was happy with Judge Richard Doucette's

12-year state prison sentence for habitual offender Steven Skufca.

Norman Townsend, Skufca's public defender, said his soon-to-be former client intends to appeal his sentence received Monday, which left a surprised District Attorney's office vowing its own appeal.

"I was surprised," Townsend said.

Doucette ruled that Colorado's prescribed 24-year prison term was "disproportionate" and a violation of Skufca's 8th Amendment protection against cruel or unusual punishment to the three felony convictions that led to Skufca's habitual criminal designation.

Skufca, 42, was found by Doucette earlier this year to be a habitual criminal, citing past convictions for possession of a controlled substance, introducing contraband, and driving after revocation. He's had 24 other run-ins with law enforcement between April 1979 and April 2000.

Townsend said Skufca would argue on appeal that a jury, not Doucette, should have determined Skufca's habitual criminal status.

During that hearing, Doucette rejected a motion that raised that question.

"The current trend is to return all factual issues to juries," Townsend said, citing the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling earlier this year finding that juries, not judges, must impose death sentences.

"I believe the habitual criminal statute will be struck down," Townsend said. "If it's illegal to sentence someone to death, what's the difference between that and the habitual criminal statute?"

Still, it's one attorney's reading, he conceded.

"It's like picking tea leaves," Townsend said of the case's prospects through appeals.

While Skufca's journey through the legal system appears to be moving on, local law enforcement waits.

And stews.

"It made me sick to my stomach," Moffat County Undersheriff Jerry Hoberg said of Skufca's 12-year sentence. "No matter what he does, he's always been given a break."

Hoberg, who started with law enforcement locally in 1983 with the Craig Police Department, rejected Townsend's claim from Monday that Skufca has been "hounded"

by law enforcement over two decades.

"If we were hounding him, it was done on crimes he's committed," Hoberg said.

Skufca aside from the 12-year term was also credited by Doucette for roughly two years served in Moffat County Jail. Skufca's good conduct while locked up locally could lead state prison officials to knock off even more time, he said.

"They normally serve about half," he said. "We wanted him to go away for 24 years."

Al White, the current state

representative of House District 56 and a candidate for House

District 57, said the system could work.

"It's the job of judges to interpret and follow state statutes, and

there are procedures in place when it doesn't happen," White said.

"The judge is not supposed to legislate."

White said he was "dubious" about claims the habitual criminal statute violates the constitution, and doesn't buy the comparison with this year's high court death penalty ruling.

"There's a clear distinction between that and a death sentence."

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